The Difficult Path for Education Jobs

After losing 8.7 million jobs in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. economy finally added nearly one million in 2010. Yet last year, when overall jobs finally began growing again, education jobs shrunk by around 20,000. This comes as something of a surprise. The sector had once been thought virtually recession-proof. It's often lauded by economists and politicians alike as vital to American's future. So why is education having trouble, and what should we expect for teaching jobs in the years to come?

Breaking Down the Numbers

Let's start with what's actually happening with education jobs. Here's a chart showing education jobs as a percentage of total jobs versus the unemployment rate:

ed vs unemp 2010.png

For most of the period shown, the two lines move somewhat in sync. That's because education jobs tend to endure recessions better than most. As jobs are lost throughout the economy (and the unemployment rate rises), education jobs remain flat or continue to grow, which makes them a larger percentage of total jobs. That's why we see both lines rising through the latter part of 2009.

Unfortunately, we haven't seen enough new jobs in the economy since 2010 to see how this chart will change when the labor market recovers. But let's look at job gains and losses another way. First, here's total jobs added or lost each year since 2005:

total jobs added lost 2010.png

And here's the same chart for just education jobs:

annual ed jobs 2010.png

As you can see, in 2008, the broader economy lost millions of jobs, but education jobs actually continued to grow. In 2009, total job losses were even worse. Education jobs didn't grow as much then, but didn't decline. Then, in 2010, the situation flipped. This is the first time we've seen annual education jobs decline for as long as the government's data set goes -- back to 1990. It does provide data back to 1955 for just state and local education jobs (which excludes private education). That reveals two years in the past 55 (in the early 1980s) with job losses on the state and local levels, but none as deep as what was seen in 2010.

Education Subsectors

Here's a better breakdown of the past three years, so you can understand the contributing factors:

ed sector breakdown 2010 v3.png

Let's consider each sector:

Private Education

Private sector education jobs actually have endured the recession quite well. That sort of makes sense, since demand for private education hasn't changed much. University and private secondary education enrollment has likely remained largely the same. After all, the government now backs student loans, so recession probably hasn't struck private universities too adversely.

State Education

You might expect to see state education endure a little more pain. After all, state funding has been under stress as states have cut budgets in response to lower tax receipts and overspending over the past few years. Yet state education jobs did just fine in 2010 only fell slightly in 2009.

Presented by

Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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